Image: Unsplash
Image: Unsplash

Cultivating a positive mental attitude during self-isolation

With current circumstances meaning most of us are isolating in our homes, there is a wealth of content online listing various pastimes that might transform our government-sanctioned grounding into a fulfilling or, at the very least, less boring experience. 

Having something to do is always good, no matter the situation. However, equally important to keeping busy is keeping yourself happy. So, as someone who, down to a flatmate with a fever, is a couple of weeks ahead of the isolation curve, I’d like to share my advice for keeping yourself calm and happy as the world seems to collapse around you.

Re-establish routine

People crave stability and seek security in their everyday habits. In the fog of everyday life, it’s easy to forget how much we rely on structures and external instructions to herd us from point A to point B and, like most things, we only realise how much we need it when it’s gone. 

Don’t get me wrong – we all enjoy holidays, but holidays cease to be as much fun when we don’t have anything to come back to afterwards. The antidote to this purgatory of waking up at 3 PM and binging Netflix till 6 AM is routine. 

Creating routines should, of course, be personal to you. Some people have general goals they work on. Personally, I like to write a little checklist for myself at night that I can check off throughout the next day. Whatever you can stick to, you should. 

Keep a balance between work and enjoyment

Whether it’s pushing yourself too far in workouts, or spending days rearranging your bookshelf to increasingly convoluted criteria, boredom can easily lead us to erratic and unhealthy behaviour. 

It’s good to give yourself something you can work on, but those returns quickly diminish when work is all you’ve got. Not only can denying yourself some off-time easily make you erratic and high strung, interestingly, but it might also actually decrease your productivity. Over in Japan, Microsoft experimented with a four day work week and managed to not only make their workers happier but 40% more productive. The moral of the story? All work and no play is no fun for anyone. 

Foster internal unity 

Lincoln famously proclaimed that “a house divided against itself cannot stand”. While it can’t be confirmed whether or not he’d think the same of a house social-distancing against itself, I’m sure the general principle holds.

Lockdown and isolation may be the key to our health and safety but no reasoning, however cogent, is going to silence that mammalian part of our brain that aches for intimacy and closeness and trying to deny it doesn’t help either. 

When the outside world works to divide you, the solution is never to also fracture internally. At these times, you find yourself a corner, fill it with all the people you love and trust, then you hunker down to weather the storm.

Positive mental attitude

In reality, having a positive mental attitude is about much more than just flicking on the happy switch – it’s about mental agility and fortitude, it’s about seeing hope where others see none and when there isn’t any hope, it’s about knowing that it can only be found again if you’re willing to go out and look for it. 

This may sound like a simple truism but it’s actually incredibly tricky, requiring disciplined introspection. A good starting point, I find, is to exorcise yourself of the idea that “the grass is always greener on the other side”. 

This sort of innocuous ruefulness may seem harmless, but once you get locked into this sort of thinking, it can sometimes be hard to break out of it. Sooner or later, you’ll find that no matter the quality of the pasture, you’ll find a way to make it yellow. After all, you can’t have a green garden, without a little sunshine. 

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